Sheri S. Tepper – The Song of Mavin Manyshaped. Recommended by my friend Tim. Proper fantasy, great examination of sexual politics, fantastic fantastical creatures, and really enjoyable.

George Simenon – The Late M. Gallet. Enjoyable early Maigret. Nice twists at the end, as one hopes for in detective fiction.

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic. Recommended by a colleague. Great advice for life in general.

That I have hoisted my sail to all the winds – it’s the plan I always had – to get to the sea, to get to the sky and to get away from all this. But the sails on this boat, and my will, should be just enough with fuel and muscle and a little cash to get away.

But who has fuel any more, who has cash. Muscle is no problem, but fuel and cash for the journey – hoisting the sail isn’t done by will alone but by planning and backing and bribing and scheming. 

All the compromises that make up a life, that make up the journey from mama’s teat to the last breath, the last swallow, the last look – surely my bootstraps. But no, there is no individual initiative, no matter what the history books say. You do the work and you get the blisters and someone always looks at you and says, ‘No, you’ll always be Thing X, no matter how many Things Y you think you can achieve. Unless I give the nod, unless I say the word, all your initiative, all the sacks and rope, all the lumber you can carry, all the nails you can bend – all those things are mine alone.’ 

And so I hoist and hoist for some other bastard, who is obviously more legitimate than me – he can show titles going back centuries and all I have is a birth certificate with empty spaces and a few coins and skills all the aristocracy together couldn’t muster – skills developed one by one over decades of putting all the pieces together and putting all those pieces to work and even the overseers can’t budge me, now matter their job descriptions and sidearms and so, I go down to the shipyard, survey the work of the other hands, the gleaming hulls, paid for by who knows what, and I look at all the ships, all lined up and I look at the guard towers and the gunners guarding the ships of the wealthy and the ships of the government and wonder if all my ingenuity, all my work, all my skill will get me past them.

I read through the settlement documents again, seated in the long conference room across from my former business partner and his lawyer and next to my own. Dissolving a partnership of eleven years and we could barely speak to one another. The words all flowed into ant-like rows of nothingness and I had to focus on one line at a time to make sure I comprehended.

That’s the trouble with legalese. Though individual lines don’t give whole pieces of information, we were seated in silence so that we could read and ask questions and so tried to make sense of it all. To be honest, the dissolution was only about four pages long and two of those were definitions and one was intentionally left blank, so subtracting the half page at the top of the first which was the name and place of our actions and the half page at the back that was for all of our signature, the thing was only ten pages that I had to comprehend, but I could only focus on individual words.

The line said ‘nor lose possession’ and I figured that part I should focus on. That phrase ‘possession is nine tenths of the law’ came to mind, and I tried not to let it distract me. Nor lose possession of the fair,’ what the fair Rosamund, the fairest of the seasons, Vanity Fair. No, nothing so interesting. Neither party loses possession fo that fair representation in the courts, something like that. The ants started to spiral into the shape of a Ferris Wheel and my mind narrowed. My vision narrowed, and the ringing in my ears resolved to the sound of a carnival band and my lawyer, bless her, nearly shouted in my ear. I thought before the words resolved that she was going to shout, ‘Come see the bearded lady, no visit to the fair is complete without a visit to the freak show!’ Please focus, Cory, you’re paying by the hour and that’s not much time left.

And I resolved to focus and to shake the fair out of my mind. My lawyer called for the secretary to bring more coffee and water and then asked me where I needed help. I looked at her hand, her eyes narrowed – her pupils narrowed like a reptile’s and her hair seemed to have its own life and her voice was suddenly not that of the lawyer I’d consulted six weeks before, but of the harshest judge from my nightmare.

Possession is nine tenths of your attorney, too.

Your grace, I implore you to tell the whereabouts of my relatives. My sister and her wife, their two sons were in the care of your household, but nothing has been heard or seen in a fortnight and I am worried. A sennight without word is not uncommon, but twice that?

Benevolent Lady Heather looked up from the papers on her desk at the man begging her. Leave her word, her answer.The man who identified himself as Master Tim of North Way didn’t look like the usual overfed, unfit northerners she was used to. He was wiry – like a lumberjack – and had the drawn face of one who ate little fat and no sugar. His teeth were strong but crooked. His voice, though, had the swift twang of those raised in the North – the wide vowels, dropped Rs and clear annunciation of those raised in the provinces north of the capitol.

I have nothing against you North people – we have good relations with your representative at court, but no one of your descent is in my household at this time, in care or in service.

Tim held his tongue, but considered the tense her grace used – is in my household. He took a different tack. ‘My sister and her family came from out the West – she no longer looks or sounds much like a Northman and her wife is a Westerner by descent and their sons by birth and upbringing. They’ll have had the red irises of the West.

No, Master Tim, I don’t know of the family you speak of . There’s a register you can read that details the comings and goings – the arrivals and departures – of our staff. When did they arrive? Time me the year and I’ll have my chief of staff bring the volume.

They arrived before the harvest in the third year of your reign, your grace.

So I’m beautiful – to some – what of it? Why does my beauty require that I bear children too, that I succumb to the pawing of some man who might not want it either. There’s a lot to do in this world that bears no resemblance to bearing children, raising them, adding to the surplus population. Surely there’s enough that I can’t just live my life without adding to that number, no?

My mother, father, and the priest who had leered at me weekly from the day of my first communion when his finger lingered on my lip just a little too long after putting the wafer on my tongue. Had it not been in front of everyone, I would have bitten him, but at the age of 8 I knew better than to embarrass my family that way, but I kept my eye on Father Steven ever after that. The fact that here he was in my parents’ house 15 years later abjuring me to marry and fulfill my duty to the community.

‘And how do you fulfill your duty to the community, Father?’

‘When, I’m this congregation’s spiritual leader. I speak the word of god and lead the flock.’

‘And what else does leading the flock entail?’ Yes, I know I was leading the conversation away from my parents’ focus on getting me to consider marrying Father Steven’s nephew Laurence, but I had enough reasons for not wanting to marry, to marry Laurence, and to marry into Steven’s family.

‘Cora, darling,’ my own father said, ‘we’ve belonged to this parish since you were a toddler – Father Steven is the only spiritual leader you’ve known. Surely you know what he does?’

‘I know what he says he does, but is he representative? Do they all do that? And take the fringe benefits too?’ And that was where I derailed everything.